Each week in my yoga classes in Bristol, I see people come in to class feeling tired, perhaps agitated by their day, and usually more than a little lack lustre. When they leave, there is a noticeable difference in how they are. They are usually settled, calmer, and more comfortable in themselves. A better version of themselves. They have changed.
During the class we move the body, opening, expanding, stretching, challenging, engaging and working the entire body in some way. We breathe deeply for the full class, slowing and extending the breath where possible. And we try to focus on ourselves and our breath.
I came across a fascinating talk by Amy Cuddy recently called 'Your body language shapes who you are'.
Amy is a social psychologist. She researches body language at Harvard Business School and she was interested in researching how body language not only effects other people's perceptions of us, but how it actually effects our own body chemistry.
In her research she concluded that by standing up tall with the feet apart and with the arms raised and open for only 2 minutes daily, we can raise our testosterone levels (dominance hormone supporting a confident outlook), and reduce cortisol levels (stress hormones). Simply by changing our body position in this way, we are altering our hormones and brain chemistry. We are changing ourselves to not only feel but become more powerful, confident and laid back.
In yoga classes it is very likely that you'll do a lot of arm raising like she describes, standing with the feet apart, reaching up, opening up. Also combining this with bending forwards, twisting and so on. So her research suggests that we are actually changing ourselves and our hormones in a very real way by doing this.
I took two things from Amy Cuddy's inspiring talk
- firstly, that yoga postures seem very aligned to the body changes she talks about, and that by doing them you'll actually become more confident and laid back.
- and secondly, that only a little practice, taken regularly, can make a big difference!
Pass it on...
I love TED Talks
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I've recently been inspired by reading about minimalism
as an approach to living. I've been enjoying how it reflects many values that I hold close, and that I've been cultivating through my study and practice of yoga. It has also inspired me to have a really good clear out of my home!
The idea of living simply with less to enjoy life more is one that has taken more prominence for me since becoming a yoga teacher. I teach viniyoga - yoga that is applied carefully and adapted to suit those who are participating. Viniyoga embodies a minimalist approach to yoga practice. It doesn't require a super heated yoga studio, or any special kit (no blocks, belts, bolsters or even mats required). Nor does it require a certain level of fitness or skill to participate. All you need is you, your body, your breath, and your attention. In fact this is why it initially appealed to me. I wanted to start practicing yoga at home but found the foam blocks, folding chair, bolster, strap and bricks used in class rather unwieldy and off-putting to home practice, and questioned how essential they really were. Upon discovering the simplicity of viniyoga I was hooked, home practice became encouraged, and there has been no looking back.
I often do use a sticky yoga mat, but at home I'm equally happy practicing on a carpet (or even floorboards if necessary as I did last week when I was away but it's a little less comfortable). I use my body's own weight to create resistance to help strengthen and energise as I practice the various postures (asana) of yoga.
Viniyoga has a minimalist approach to the repertoire of asana usually practiced. At it's core there are a carefully selected set of primary asana, each serving an important purpose. These asana are gradually explored in further and further depth, with a deepening emphasis on breath and focus and techniques around these as the practice advances. This makes it a very accessible form of yoga practice as you can deepen your yoga practice and continue to develop without the need for a gymnast's or dancer's body. Let's face it, if you started practicing yoga as an adult, that isn't a realistic ambition for most people.
And beyond the daily bodywork and breathwork to maintain and develop our health, yoga cultivates mindful compassionate living, minimising the dependence on material attributes in our lives so that we have space to spend each day in an enjoyable, meaningful way. A wonderful way to live with amazing potential.
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After being asked about it for ages by some of my male friends, we've finally decided to start up a men's yoga class at YogaSpace on Saturday mornings (9.30am, all levels of fitness and stiffness welcome!).
Fiona is a fab teacher who is both dynamic and knowledgable and will break down each of the poses to make them accessible and inspire you to challenge yourself. She is also great at anatomy and working with stiffness and injury so you'll be in safe hands. Men's yoga isn't different necessarily, but it is nice to be in a group where you feel comfortable and men tend to be stiffer in women, particularly in the legs and back, and in need of better core strength, so the classes will be taylored to focus on this. Traditionally yoga was only for men and it is only the last 50 years or so that it has been opened up to women by pioneers such as Krishnamacharya and Iyengar. So tell your friends and blokes who would benefit from a bit more strength, flexibility and de-stressing in their lives!Back to YogaSpace homepage
A common complaint - stiff shoulders, limited mobility in the neck and discomfort in the upper back, shoulder, neck area. Accumulated tension, often caused by working at a desk, poor posture, cycling etc. all contribute to tension and stiffness related pain. There are some great yoga postures that gently get to the root of the problem and release blockages and free up the area. And without them, or regular massage, it doesn't resolve by itself. We don't really do any natural movements that will release that part of the body, unless we make the extra effort. So it just gets worse over time. So
many of us hunch our shoulders and have a rounded upper back as a result. It is good to see yoga being clinically researched to demonstrate how it can help. I see benefits in my students and anecdotally hear how it helps them regularly. I currently have two yoga therapy students who are greatly benefitting from the gentle releasing of the shoulders and neck. You need to work carefully and gradually, but gentle stretching and movements will help. See more on the research here:Journal of Pain Research paper
Yoga Journal Articlehttp://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2012/12/yoga-for-neck-pain.htmlGet in touch to find out more about how yoga can help you if you suffer from neck pain. firstname.lastname@example.orgBack to homepage >
The debate is ongoing, should yoga be considered for the Olympic games?
Yoga competitions have been held for over a century, and there are many yoga practitioners who would support the competitive yoga movement. But equally many of the teachings of yoga philosophy, and many of the reasons some are drawn to the practice of yoga, work away from the notion of it being competitive.
Many people practice yoga precisely because you aren't in competition and it allows you space to escape from the daily struggle. You nurture the uncompetitive side of you, where you work at your own level, your own pace, challenging yourself to develop health, strength, mental and physical wellbeing and perhaps spiritual grounding and space. But there are many varied reasons for people to practice yoga, and for some it is largely athetic.
The practice that most of us see in classes, on DVDs and in our home practice, is athletic. Physical exercises to stretch, strengthen, develop stamina and stability. This is the visible side of yoga, the performance of yoga
postures (asana). The rest of the yoga teachings are largely invisible, not aimed at spectators. Teachings about attitudes, lifestyle, reflection, breath control, meditation. To sit cross-legged and see who can regulate the breathing well, or become realised and enlightened might not make great viewing!
Yoga is different things to different people, and none of them need conflict. For some it is physical development
and mastery, discipline, challenge, and these could all be aligned with developing the competitions of yoga into more formal Olympic Sport. It would be interesting to consider how the rules might differ from the rules of gymnatics
. The development of yoga asana has been quite influenced by the physical culture of gymnastics so there is certainly cross over that would need to be carefully defined.
The commercial side would have to be considered too. Yoga is big business, Bikram yoga
has packaged and presented yoga into a neat and simple kit that has been rolled out globally and which affords him a forecourt full of Rolls Royces and diamond encrusted Rolexs. The posture sequence would surely complement his copyrighted sequence as he is in the
forefront of promoting it as an Olympic Sport. So the motivation of Yoga as Sport and who governs the sport would need to be considered.
There are pros and cons of course.
- Making it into a mainstream sport could encourage participation which then may lead practitioners beyond the physical into the deeper teachings. Many have discovered the joy of yoga practice through the appeal of an athetic practice.
- It could also work the other way, simplifying it and reducing it to a sport, losing too much along the way.
I'm not a supporter of the Olympic Yoga movement. More and more people are discovering yoga in their own way and it seems to have momentum of its own. The practice of yoga is already more athletic than anything else in most classes. Yet the teachings and experience of a fuller yoga practice speaks for themself. Olympic yoga could easily put off those who aren't competitive.
The idea of competing to be 'better' than someone else at yoga is exactly what Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
, one of the essential ancient texts depicting the teachings of yoga, warn against as one of the pitfalls along the path of self development. A dead end that could take up all our energy until we realise too late that we have missed the point.
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Below is a link to an interesting article providing a backstory to Yoga and how it has emerged in the current more physical form that we find it in this country.
It focuses purely on the physical teachings of Yoga however this if you have every practiced much Yoga you'll soon realise that this is just the tip of the iceburg. Yoga when taught well, skillfully uses body and breath to develop a still mind, and also offers a wealth of knowledge for self-development and wellbring through key texts such as Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (2000 years prior to this). The physicality and postures have emerged with influences from western culture and some classes this is more obvious than others. Some interesting video clips too. bbc.co.uk.bodybuildingandphysicalculturearticle>>>>>
Also see this article I wrote last year covering a related aspectPerhapsYogaPosturesAren'tAncientBack to homepage
The forms of Yoga change with time but the essence remains unchanged. The living principles work their way into forms that suit us. Strong and physical for one person, still and quiet for another. Trends that weave into the larger tapestry of Yoga. Different groups emphasise different aspects but all fall under the umbrella of yoga...
Health and Healing Yoga
Find your flavour?
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I'm regularly asked to help people choose a Yoga class that will suit them. There are lots of styles, and flavours on offer in Bristol, so here are a few pointers and guidelines to help get you started:1) What do you want to achieve?Different styles of yoga offer different degrees of either physical or mental challenge and disclipline. What are you interested in initiially? Do you want to get fit, lose weight, become more grounded and centred, reduce stress and tension, aches and pains, relax more, have a physical or emotional injury, explore something personal beyond everyday life? Your personal goal will help direct which class would be most suitable. See the styles of yoga below to see where you might want to start.2) Try the class
There isn't really any substitute for trying the class to see if you enjoy it as it is such a personal experience. Even if your friend loves the class, it just might not suit you. Try a few classes if you have the time, different types and different teachers. Most teachers are happy for you to come along and try their class and see if it is right for you. You are much more likely to stick with it if you find a class and a teacher you are happy with. 3) Enjoy the class!
The class should leave you feeling refreshed, relaxed, energised, calm, settled and more positive. An overall good feeling that should speak for itself. If you start to feel unwell or are in pain, feel frustrated, unsettled, uncomfortable, competitive, agitated, then perhaps the class doesn't suit you or try talking to your teacher. 4) Feel comfortable and confident in the teacher
You should feel comfortable in the class, and confident in the teacher so you can immerse yourself in the class. You should feel able to ask your teacher questions (before or after class usually or get his/her attention during the class) to help support you. As a beginner, or as you begin to deepen your practice and potentially encounter obstacles, a supportive and experienced teacher will help you work through these. 5) Challenging or relaxing yoga class?
Should you take a more challenging, intense or difficult class or a more gentle yoga class? This is where classes vary the most and finding something that suits you and suits your lifestyle is really important...If you are relatively healthy and fit
, then a more physically demanding, vigorous class would be fine for you. However if you have a really busy, full-on lifestyle and are a fast-paced person, then perhaps consider exploring a more calming, supportive Yoga class that will help balance your life. You might find yourself typically attracted to a strong, intense Yoga practice (e.g. Bikram yoga, Vinyasa Flow yoga or Ashtanga yoga), but you might find this just perpetuates your pace which ultimately might be unhelpful. People often find themselves burnt-out. Consider trying a different class and see what happens! You might initially think this is boring, but your personal challenge might be to stick with it and discover the hidden depths, rather than the obvious and immediate challenge of keeping up.If you have an injury or medical condition
, then a smaller class where the focus is on safe alignment and modifying the practice to suit each person in the class is recommended, with a well trained teacher who understands your condition.If you are a bit sedentary,
perhaps not too motivated or feel lethargic, why not try a more energising, vigourous class that challenges you and switches your pace. Ensure you work within your physical abilities, especially at first, but this could be a great Yoga practice for you.6) Well trained teachers
Yoga is a huge and ancient subject. There is much to study and as yoga teachers we are always learning more. Along with the many Yoga postures, there are many breathing techniques that are learned over time, Yoga philosophy, anatomy and physiology, and lots more besides. We recommend at least two years teacher training to even begin to get to grips with the basics and be able to teach and adapt the class safely to suit the participants. Organisations such as the British Wheel of Yoga
provide accreditation to meet this standard. (They are the only Yoga body to be approved by Sport England
). 7) Yoga that fits your schedule
Regular practice is really important to gradually develop and deepen the benefits and practice safely. Finding a Yoga class that is convenient for you to get to, and is at a time that you can usually make, will give you the best chance of sticking with it. Also finding a teacher that can recommend some home practice that 8) Types of Yoga Classes
Here are a few 'types' or flavours of class to help orientate you. They are all Yoga and all dealing with the same things but might feel different and focus on slightly different aspects when you try them. So this is just a rough guide, feel free to add more descriptions below to help others choose a class...~Hatha Yoga Classes~
Classic yoga postures which also incorporate a focus on the breathing. Variations on postures include staying in postures, or moving into them dynamically but more slowly. Classes can range from challenging to more gentle and relaxing so try the class or check with the teacher to see what they are teaching. They usually suit all levels from beginners so good for everyone. Most YogaSpace classes
are Hatha Yoga or this next one, Viniyoga. ~Viniyoga Classes~
(what I teach)
Classic Yoga postures which you move into and out of dynamically with the breath, gradually building up to staying in the postures over time. Small classes where the teacher will help adapt the postures to suit the students and will offer optional challenges as you progress. Focus on breathing and gradually deepening and developing the breath to intensify the practice when the student is ready. Good classes for all levels including beginners as they are small classes adapted to suit you. Well trained teachers :-)~Iyengar Yoga Classes~
offers physically challenging classes where you hold classic yoga postures for a period of time to develop good strength. Strong focus on alignment, making use of equipment such as belts, blocks, bricks, chairs etc. to assist you in getting in to the posture. Less focus on breathing until a couple of years class attendance. Usually well trained teachers. ~Ashtanga Yoga Classes~
is a set sequence of dynamic movements which you learn over time and will work through each class. A physically demanding practice with focus on moving steadilly with the breath. Physically demanding and a longer class usually (1.5 - 2.5 hours). Good for physical stamina and an intense experience. Go carefully, especially at first.~Bikram Yoga Classes~
Hot Yoga classes, offering a set sequence of 26 postures practiced in a hot (super-hot!) humidified room where students sweat and work hard in each pose. Often beginners will sit out some poses and just enjoy the intense heat and humidity. Teachers have learned a set class formula which Bikram Choudhury
developed and has taught to all his teachers during their 9-week intensive teacher training programme. An intense experience and strong practice. ~Vinyasa Flow Yoga Classes~
Dynamic movements linking poses together and flowing the movements with the breath. Often a physically challenging and focusing practice which requires some coordination to join in and keep up. Variable teacher training, some good but some can be trained in only a month or few months so recommend finding out.
Try a class or a few classes and see how they suit you.
Please add more class descriptions or suggestions below to help others in finding the right class for them.
Enjoy!Back to homepage
This question is one that I get asked regularly. The responses are different for different people and of course, there isn't a right or wrong answer, yoga is different things to different people...Yoga for fitness?
People take to physical activity for the challenges that are supposed to help keep us supple and healthy. Yoga can provide a range of challenges, some intense and others more relaxing depending on the yoga practice. The movements can help you feel better in yourself (as long as you work within your own limits and progress sensibly), can strengthen you and keep you suitably supple. However here is definitely more to it than a regular fitness regime, otherwise why not go to the gym?Yoga for stiffness?
Yoga is notorious for its bendiness and many people believe they need to be bendy to do yoga.
The bendy poses are not in the majority, and many postures are completely accesible for stiff people too and over time the stiffness will ease up so yes, great to help improve stiffness.Yoga for posture improvement?
Yoga is perfect for strengthening and improving posture. After all, the physical postures or asana were originally designed to keep the body strong and stable to enable hours of meditation by the yogi. So the benefits of practising yoga asana can support our modern day posture needs too. Yoga for relaxation?
Stretching and limbering up the body can help encourage the body to let go of tension. Along side this, focusing our minds on body and breath work can help relax our minds from the tensions of daily grind. Yoga can help us ease up on tension and encourage the body, and the breath, and even the mind, to relax.Yoga for stress-relief?
It is well known that the work in yoga leaves people feeling calm and with a pervasive sense of well-being. Some people report this also from running, swimming, eating chocolate... Yoga definitely helps both release stress, and also to have the ability to recognise it earlier. By taking the time to listen to our bodies and minds, and recognising the signs of stress early, and by understanding what the causes are, we can begin a deeper pattern of change to prevent stress-related problems.Yoga for healing?
Yoga is known for its therapeutic help, and I work with a lot of private yoga students who will testify to this. For a variety of reasons, they find a regular yoga practice helps improve their bodies and also helps them with much more besides. Movement and good breathing can help heal the body and mind and encourage repair, renewal and strength.
Yoga can be as gentle or as strong as is needed to ensure it is beneficial to whoever is practicing it. I work with people recovering from sometimes serious illness who physically are very limited. But there is always something you can do that will gradually lead to greater ability and hopefully progress you back to health either physically, mentally or more often than not, both!Yoga for spirituality?
Yoga has the ability to calm down and settle an overactive body and mind. We can stop worrying, still the incessant chit chat of the mind and move towards creating a refreshing calm, a reprieve to help us handle every day life. This in turn can lend itself to meditation and contemplation of what spirituality might mean to us. By accessing a still and settled mind we can experience the world from a different perspective and perhaps notice things we hadn't noticed before, bringing us closer to who we really are. Yoga to support personal changeThe philosophy and psychology of yoga has many teachings on how we perpetuate our habits, good and bad. It teaches how we can reflect on them, what their triggers and patterns are, how to know ourselves well enough that we can ultimately move towards changing them and ourselves. Yoga practice
is a starting point for personal change and development.
As I told a private student today, one of the joys of yoga is that it is sooo efficient. It can do all this and more in a relatively short practice, the more you practice, more the of these benefits you can get. So why do we practice yoga?
Is it so we can become a little bendier than we were before? Or perhaps there is more purpose than this?Back to homepage
Finding a yoga class or yoga practice that suits you is a fine art and finding a range of postures that are right for you can depend on what you are looking for from yoga.
Some yoga postures are physically demanding, and some are completely inaccessible to many, but even postures that are relatively easy to get into initially, can actually be some of the toughest.
This yoga postures website www.santosha.com
lists a range of postures and then grades them based on how hard it thinks they are. Interestingly it gives 'Savasana' the corpse or lying relaxtion pose the easiest grade. I At first glance you could easily agree with this rating, surely you just have to lie there? However I regularly see students in my yoga classes struggling with this pose. It is a personal challenge to many to actually lie and relax, close the eyes and keep the mind attentive while the body releases onto the mat. People can fall asleep in a class in this posture, indicating that they are over-tired rather than able to relax the body. Or they find it hard to close the eyes or feel comfortable lying face up. Or their back bothers them and they don't find it relaxing. Or they just can't let go of the tension in their shoulders and hips. It is a tough posture in many ways, and the stillness of the mind, one of the goals of yoga, is challenged here as the body isn't moving to provide focus and distraction.
Postures, or asana as yoga terms them, can be deceptively difficult, and getting into them is only the very first step of practicing yoga. Deepening the work in the more 'simple' postures, advancing your work in a seemingly straightforward asana rather than trying more advanced asana in a physical way can often lead to much greater rewards.
So finding a class with advanced postures isn't always the way to develop your own yoga practice. Advancing your work in the primary yoga postures is a good approach for many practitioners rather than reaching for the headstand. And it is this basis which makes yoga accessible to everyone, not just those who are super bendy or super strong!Back to homepage